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Spring walking tour across campus sheds light on historical events that occurred on Black Thursday at UF

Students and faculty listened to multiple speakers at Turlington Plaza as they began their tour of sites related to the history of Black Thursday at UF. (Kayra Amaral/WUFT News)

The people behind three different programs on the University of Florida campus partnered Thursday for their second spring walking tour.

The walk, organized by the Brown Center for Leadership & Service, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and Beyond120 program, centered around historical sites associated with the events that occurred on Black Thursday — April 15, 1971 — at UF. On that day, one of the most infamous in school history, dozens of Black students gathered on the steps of Tigert Hall to protest and ask UF President Stephen C. O’Connell for equal treatment.

Some 53 years later, over 50 students, faculty and community members of all different backgrounds met up outside of Turlington Hall to learn more about what happened that day.

“We created this initially as a way of getting students to realize their full potential and their power while also simultaneously talking about UF’s history and the significance of it,” said Soniy Alamdari, the UF student director for the Brown Center.

The walk started off at Turlington, where the African American Studies Program was established in 1969. In 1971, the program awarded the first certificate in African American Studies and in 2006 it offered a minor. By 2014, it became a major from which 205 people have graduated.

The next stop of the tour was at the steps of Tigert Hall, the scene of the 1971 protest. During the staged sit-in that day at O'Connell's office, he refused to speak to them and called the police, leading to many students being gassed and arrested. This event led to 100 Black students withdrawing from UF, as well as the resignation of Black faculty members and the firing of others.

The last stop was at the Institute of Black Culture, which was dedicated in 1972 after student protests called for a safe space where Black students could share an academic, social, and cultural climate on campus.

Dr. Riché J. Daniel Barnes, right, associate professor of anthropology and African American studies at the University of Florida speaks Thursday at Turlington Plaza to a group of students and faculty about the events of Black Thursday. (Kayra Amaral/WUFT News)

“I’m happy that there are folks who are interested in understanding and preserving the history of the University of Florida, both good and bad, and that this becomes an opportunity to learn so we know how to become better students and citizens,” said Kevin Winstead, Assistant Professor for critical media in AI and African American studies in sociology.

The walking tour’s goal was to bring a sense of unity to the community and make it clear that everyone has power within themselves and the community. It shed light on the events that occurred in 1971 and the improvements made since.

“I think Black history at UF is so important because it shows that there’s a space for all students here,” said Alana Cumberbatch, a first-year student at UF. “It shows the legacy of what student organizing can do and what it means to be a UF Gator beyond just the title. It’s about resistance and making sure your voice is heard.”

Though the events of Black Thursday are now decades in the past, the event’s organizers said it remains important for Black students to feel at home on campus.

Director of the African American Studies Program, Dr. David Canton, encourages all students to stop by the African American Studies office to “do your studying, have conversations with other students and faculty about African American studies to try to create an atmosphere that is welcoming, academically engaging and also fun.”

Over 50 students and faculty walk up the same steps of UF's Tigert Hall as did a group of protesters on Black Thursday in 1971. (Kayra Amaral/WUFT News)

Kayra Amaral is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.